- Court decides that it is not legal to force Americans to buy insurance as part of the controversial individual mandate
- Court says it is legal to penalize them if they do not have insurance
- Romney describes law as ‘bad policy’ and promises to repeal it on first day in White House if elected President
- Republicans rename measure ‘Obamatax’ as they open new line of attack
By Toby Harnden
PUBLISHED: 17:44 EST, 28 June 2012 | UPDATED: 17:44 EST, 28 June 2012
Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush, enraged conservative colleagues by siding with the court’s liberals.
But Mr Roberts may have delivered a political sting in the tail for Mr Obama by rejecting his lawyers’ argument that the mandate was permissible under the constitution commerce clause, and instead ruling that Congress could levy fines for non-compliance as a tax.
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This enables Republicans to accuse Mr Obama of breaking an election promise not to raise taxes – a potent attack line and one that sunk President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election.
In September 2009, Mr Obama told ABC News: ‘For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.
‘What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you any more than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.’
Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican chief whip of the House of Representatives, was one of the first to rename ‘Obamacare’ – initially a term of conservative contempt but later embraced by the White House – ‘Obamatax’.
Republican response: Speaker of the House John Boehner (left) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (right) said that they disagreed with the ruling and Mr Cantor announced a scheduled vote to repeal on July 11
THE SUPREME COURT’S HISTORIC RULING ON OBAMACARE
WHO DOES IT AFFECT?
The decision affects nearly every American and marks a major milepost in a century of efforts to make health care available to all.
WILL ANYONE NOT BE COVERED BY IT?
An estimated 26 million people will remain without health coverage once the law is fully implemented, including illegal immigrants, people who don’t sign up and elect to face the fine instead, and those who can’t afford it even with the subsidies.
The 2010 health care law will continue phasing in as planned. It’s expected to bring coverage to about 30 million uninsured people, so that more than 9 in 10 eligible Americans will be covered.
Some parts are already in effect: Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. Insurers can’t deny coverage to children with health problems. Limits on how much policies will pay out to each person over a lifetime are eliminated. Hundreds of older people already are saving money through improved Medicare prescription benefits. And co-payments for preventive care for all ages have been eliminated.
Starting in 2014, almost everyone will be required to be insured or pay a fine. There are subsidies to help people who can’t afford coverage. Most employers will face fines if they don’t offer coverage for their workers. Newly created insurance markets will make it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy affordable coverage. And Medicaid will be expanded to cover more low-income people.
Insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging those people more. They won’t be able to charge women more, either. During the transition to 2014, a special program for people with pre-existing health problems helps these people get coverage.
An assortment of tax increases, health industry fees and Medicare cuts will help pay for the changes.
IS THE ISSUE SETTLED NOW?
Not necessarily. Although the court found it constitutional, the health care law still could be changed by Congress. Romney and Republican congressional candidates are campaigning on promises to repeal it if elected in November.
Mr Obama’s 2009 words denying his bill was a tax have already been turned into an ‘Obamatax’ attack video by Ben Howe of the conservative video company Mister Smith Media.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential nominee and a Tea Party darling, sent out a tweet saying: ‘He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.’
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, immediately seized on the tax argument as a way of linking healthcare to the ailing economy – the centrepiece of his election strategy.
He used the term Obamacare no fewer than 18 times. ‘Obamacare was bad policy yesterday,’ he said. ‘It’s bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday. It’s bad law today. Let me tell you why I say that. Obamacare raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500billion.’
Mr Obama was visibly buoyed by the decision, which stunned official Washington, which had been expecting the law to be struck down.
He sought to portray his pursuit of the reform, which had eluded presidents for half a century, as a historic act of statesmanship.
‘It should be clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics,’ he quipped. ‘What the country can’t afford to do is re-fight the battles of two years ago.
‘Today I’m as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now, or ten years from now, or twenty years from now, we’ll be better off because we had the courage to pass this law and keep moving forward.’
Mr Romney, speaking close to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill minutes before Mr Obama, said: ‘I agree with the dissent.
‘What the court did not do in its last day in session, I will do in my first day if elected President of the United States.’
Committing himself to repealing the healthcare law, he said: ‘Our mission is clear – If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama.’
The dueling addresses and the stark policy differences ensured that healthcare would be a key issue in the final four months of the election campaign, probably second only to jobs.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, normally considered the swing vote on the court, sided with the three consistent conservatives Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in opposing the decision.
It was a major surprise that Mr Roberts aligned himself with the liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
‘Now Teddy can rest’: One of Pelosi’s first phone calls was to Senator Ted Kennedy’s widow Vicki because he was a champion of universal health care prior to his death
Although the White House had urged Democrats not to ‘spike the ball’ if they prevailed before the court, many liberals were jubilant.
Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, tweeted: ‘It’s constitutional. Bitches’. Minutes later, he added: ‘I let my scotus excitement get the better of me. In all seriousness, this is an important moment in improving the lives of all Americans.’
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared on Twitter: ‘Victory for the American people! Millions of American families and children will have certainty of health care benefits + affordable care.’
Awaiting word: President Barack Obama will address the decision this afternoon
TAKING TO TWITTER: REACTIONS
Sarah Palin, former Republican Vice Presidential nominee
Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.
Rick Santorum, former Republican presidential nominee
#SCOTUS outcome is major setback for freedom & biggest permanent tax increase in our nation’s history. Elections matter.
Michelle Bachmann, former Republican presidential nominee
I’m disappointed #SCOTUS thinks gov’t knows better than people. I won’t stop fighting #Obamacare until is full repeal. RT if you’re with me.
Erick Erickson, conservative author of RedState.com
Big loss for conservatives. Suddenly the left loves John Roberts.
Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City council and likely mayoral candidate
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the #Affordable Care Act is great news for our City, State, and Nation. #SCOTUS
Despite its ruling on individual mandates, the Court rejected the mandatory Medicaid expansion, arguing that it is not legal to threaten to withhold other benefits if the states opted against certain other portions of the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation was controversial from the outset with 26 states challenging its constitutionality before it was picked up by the Supreme Court.
Throughout the debate, the Obama administration, most notably in the form of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, resisted any suggestion that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the full title of Obamacare – was a tax.
But in his opinion, Mr Roberts wrote: ‘The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterised as a tax.
‘Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.’
Both the Obama and the Romney campaign believe that the political, as opposed to the legal, verdict on the act will be rendered on November 6th, election day.
Supporting the cause: President Barack Obama made the Affordable Health Care Act a pivotal portion of his presidential legacy, so the decision will have a great impact on his re-election campaign
Controversy: Mitt Romney and the Republicans have argued that the health care legislation is bad for business and unconstitutional
THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES: WHO ARE THE DECISION MAKERS?
The decision makers: Back row (L-R) Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan. Front row: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Back Row, left to right:
Appointed by: President Barack Obama in 2009
Though legal experts generally say that it takes five years on the court to produce a true measure of a justice’s leanings, Ms Sotomayor has largely followed the rulings of her liberal counterparts. By 2010, she had had followed Justices Ginsberg and Breyer’s decision 90 per cent of the time.
Appointed by: President Bill Clinton in 1994
Samuel Anthony Alito
Appointed by: President George W. Bush in 2006
Appointed by: President Barack Obama in 2010
The same reservation exists about Justice Kagan’s lack of time on the court, but in her brief tenure she has voted with the liberal block.
Front Row, left to right:
Appointed by: President George H.W. Bush in 1991
Leanings: Conservative. He and Justice Scalia vote the same way 92 per cent of the time during their shared time on the bench.
Appointed by: President Ronald Reagan in 1986
John Roberts, Chief Justice
Appointed: By President George W. Bush in 2005
In today’s shocking ruling, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion and is being largely credited with the final verdict as he found the taxing power to allow the individual mandate to be enacted.
Appointed by: President Reagan in 1988
Leanings: Conservative, but he often votes with the liberal wing, and is seen by many as the swing vote. Of the 16 cases that ended in a 5-4 decision, Justice Kennedy was the deciding vote on 14 of those cases.
In a surprising turn of events, Justice Kennedy was not seen as the deciding vote in this case, however, and the credit is largely going to Chief Justice John Roberts.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Appointed by: President Bill Clinton in 1993
She was the second woman appointed to the court following Sandra Day O’Connor. She is now the oldest of the current justices, having turned 79 years old in March.
Video: Obama speech after the Supreme Court decision to uphold health reforms